Jul. 16, 2005

As Kingfishers Catch Fire

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

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Poem: "As Kingfishers Catch Fire," by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
     As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
     Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
     Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
     Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;
  Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is—
  Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
  To the Father through the features of men's faces.

Literary and Historical Notes:

On this day in 1915, Henry James became a British citizen, to dramatize his commitment to England during the first World War. He lived for long periods of time in both England and America. He said: "I aspire to write in such a way that it would be impossible to an outsider to say whether I am at a given moment an American writing about England or an Englishman writing about America."

It's the birthday of Norwegian writer Dag Solstad, born in Norway in 1941. He has written novels, short stories, and dramas, including Spirals (1965), Novel 1987 (1987), and Professor Andersen's Night (1996). He writes about intellectuals who feel out of place in today's culture.

On this day in 1951, J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye was published. Salinger worked on it over a period of ten years, in between writing stories for magazines like the New Yorker. At one point, he had a 90-page version of the novel accepted for publication, but he thought it wasn't good enough and continued to revise and add bits and pieces. The Catcher in the Rye is about a sixteen-year-old troublemaker named Holden Caulfield. He runs away from Pencey Prep School a few days before Christmas Break. He wants to head west to California, and live a quiet life in a log cabin, away from all the "phonies." At one point, Holden says, "I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around-nobody big, I mean-except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff-I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all." The Catcher in the Rye got bad reviews when it was first released. A New York Times critic parodied the style of Holden Caulfield in his review, writing, "This Salinger, he's a short-story guy. And he knows how to write about kids. [But] he should have cut out a lot about all these jerks and all that crumby school. They depress me. They really do." Thirty years after its publication, The Catcher in the Rye was both the most banned book in America and the second most frequently taught book in public schools. The book has sold over 60 million copies around the world.

It's the birthday of the novelist Anita Brookner, born in London, England (1928). She started writing fiction in the 1980s, and her most famous novel, Hotel du Lac (1984), won the Booker Prize.

It's the birthday of Mary Baker Eddy, born in Bow, New Hampshire (1821). She's the founder of the religion Christian Science, whose members believe that the mind is the sole reality and illnesses can be cured purely through mental effort. As a child, Mary was very prone to illness, and she began to notice a pattern that whenever she angered her mother or father, she would fall into a fever or catch a cold. Mary continued to have very fragile health in adulthood, and when she was about forty, she decided to travel to Portland, Maine to see for herself a famous healer named Phineas Parkhurst Quimby. She became a disciple of his, and she claimed that being with him cured her immediately. Phineas died a couple of years later, and she became sick again until she started reading the New Testament. It was then, in 1866, that she founded Christian Science. She said it was "the superiority of spiritual over physical power." In 1875, Mary published a large volume called Science and Health. It explained all the principles and details of her new religion. She founded the Christian Science Association one year later, in 1876.

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